TTG Top 50 – TravelTime World
South East Region
We’re not your average travel agency, we like to do things differently. Not just that, but our clients also love that we’re different and they appreciate the time and effort we make in everything we do.
As a ‘high street agent’, we don’t prescribe to the norms or preconceptions of what a high street agent is but strive to be better and deliver for the benefit of our clients. We don’t believe in such things as opening hours, or uniforms, but instead focus on what is important for our clients – like home visits, being available in the evenings and at weekends, or access to true professionals who know the industry inside out.
We challenge the boundaries, constantly looking for ways not just how we can improve, but for the industry as a whole. As our most successful year ever in 2022, we wish to share our successes with you.
The majority of our clients have booked with us for many years, and now some of their children are starting to use us for their travel as well.
Over the last few years, with more and more being done online, we made a conscious decision to reduce the amount of paper we were using. ‘Back in the day’ we would print out letters, with confirmations which arrived in the post, and then we would post them off to our clients.
Although we wasn’t sure whether it would work to start with, we now send everything out by email (with a few exceptions). Where tour operators or airlines have apps, we encourage use of those, otherwise even tickets are emailed to reduce the amount of paper we consume.
This has enabled us to provide a better service as well. We now communicate with the client more, with regular updates both before and after travel.
We send them a personalised email when they return, offering them the option of leaving a review on Google (as this has the greatest impact on our website). Due to our demographic, not a great proportion do – some like the privacy for example. These are then published on the website.
ANYTIME SERVICE & BESPOKE APPOINTMENTS
Our ‘Anytime Service’ marries the profile of being on the high street, with the flexibility of being a homeworker. We have a saying, ‘Even though our office might not be open, it doesn’t mean we are closed’.
We offer extended opening times by phone and email from 8am to 10pm everyday, where customers can contact us to talk about their holiday plans.
This is in addition to offering appointments in the client’s own home or alternatively out of hours at a convenient location.
There is also a 24/7 Emergency Line, where clients can contact us if there is a problem, along with us keeping our emails open if clients find it easier to email rather than call. There is no duty office, it comes through directly to Jackie or Ashley, who will deal with whatever issue there is personally.
Home Visits In and around Berkhamsted there is a large community/ies who are retired. This demographic appreciates the help from a travel agent, especially when there was so much paperwork needed to travel through and shortly after the pandemic.
We have one client who travels regularly on a Saga, which we booked, but due to her circumstances and an ill husband finds it difficult to leave the house. She is also partially sighted and has trouble reading emails and websites.
In order to help her travel, we go to her house and have a consultation with her there. That was everything from talking through the booking when it was made, and when the time came, assisting with taking covid tests and sitting down to go through and assist with completing the necessary paperwork to get onboard.
ESTA Problem At Easter we had an elderly couple travel to America for a remembrance service in Arazona. We had booked their stay in Scottsdale for them with a car, and then their flight down to Tuscon for the service, together with flying direct to Phoenix on British Airways to make the process easier for them in Business Class.
When they got to Heathrow Airport, British Airways wouldn’t let them check-in, as the husband’s ESTA was incorrect, there was one digit wrong and it didn’t match the system. As they were there quite early, British Airways kindly helped redo the ESTA, but it hadn’t come back by the time they closed check-in.
He missed the deadline by seconds, and the flight was already 1 1/2 hours delayed, and British Airways wouldn’t help them, even though they were in Business Class. They didn’t assist in booking another flight, or what the clients should do next.
With British Airways not helping, we decided to go to the check-in ourselves where we found that not only had they missed the flight, but they claimed them as a ‘no-show’ and voided the entire ticket. After much discussion with them, they agreed that it wasn’t the case, and had to wait to speak to BA ticketing (as British Airways doesn’t have anyone at Heathrow who can do ticketing!), to reinstate it.
In the meanwhile, the seats for the coming days were disappearing before our eyes – so we suggested the clients should stay at the Sofitel hotel at least for the night, whilst we work out the next flight to get them on. As it was Easter, the prices to change were expensive but managed to get them on a flight to Los Angeles a couple of days later, which meant staying at Heathrow for the weekend.
Had we not argued with British Airways on their behalf, they would have had to pay a whole new ticket, which was in the region of £10,000 each.
We have run ‘Travel Clinics’ from the office on a Saturday morning for the last couple of years, offering the local community free travel help and advice vise, even if they haven’t booked with us.
The sessions are promoted on social media, and through local media hubs and are a great way for the general public to understand what we do as a travel agent. We have seen a number of these convert into actual bookings, impressing with our knowledge and expertise.
We set specific times for these sessions, so we are able to structure our day/week and avoid being too busy.
Ashley went with Regent Holidays on a small-group fam trip to Slovenia in October – covering as much of the country as possible in four days. It’s a destination we believe will be really popular in 2023 given its excellent value for money.
We both went to the Advantage Conference in Madeira earlier this year, visiting the Reid’s Palace, as well as sampling some of the delights the island has to offer.
Directly from the trip to the conference we made 7 bookings shortly afterwards.
Jackie went to the Classic Awards in Cyprus in early December, sampling both the Athena Beach & Asimina Suites, along with changes which have been made in the last 10 years in Paphos.
Jackie went with Seabourn around the Greek islands in the summer, combined with a short stay in Athens (at a hotel we have used a lot), together with friends for a week.
We completed Silversea’s online training course, so we have Silversea Expert status, as well as completing other online training courses (Oman, Saudi Arabia, JetBlue etc).
We do as many training evenings/dinners as we can, which included this year Caribtours, Classic, AMR Collection and Tipto. There has been a trend towards daytime events which are more tricky when managing a physical location.
ABTA TRAVEL TRENDS
We went to the ABTA Travel Trends conference to learn about what the expected holiday trends are going to be for the year ahead. With the data we were able to put together our ‘A World of Value’ campaign for January.
Ashley went to Belfast to do an article for ‘The Journal’ and website on filming locations – specifically around Line of Duty, and promoting Belfast as a destination city alternative to Europe.
‘TOGETHER AGAIN’ – CLIENT EVENT
Together Again was our first ‘informal’ client event held in July at a local wine bar/restaurant. It was sponsored by 8 of our top tour operator and cruise partners – Jetset, Caribtours, Prestige, Cox & Kings, Scenic / Emerald, Beachcomber Tours, ITC/Regent and Silversea.
Over 75 of our most loyal clients came, and we had a waiting list beyond that as well.
The evening was introduced by Advantage CEO Julia Lo Bue-Said, and we had talks from Paul Cleary CEO of Caribtours, and Adrian Smyth Director at Jetset. It was a great opportunity four our clients to talk to our partners, talk to each other, and us over ‘substantial canapes’ and some fizz.
Feedback from both suppliers and clients was excellent. Julia commented that it was important to meet real consumers face-to-face, and Paul mentioned at their own awards event how the evening was one of the highlights of his year – somewhat of a compliment.
Every supplier received a least a booking from the event, and from the one evening alone we achieved £115,000 in sales.
‘THE HEAT IS ON’ – COST OF LIVING CRISIS
We we’re the first to market with a campaign around the cost of living, and how to find a great value holiday during the winter. Launched in early September, our campaign was then picked up by The Independent, iNews and Euronews in Europe. We then did television interviews for Reuters, the Latvian state broadcaster and Greek TV.
This was our first ever marketing campaign on this scale, with help on offers and indicative pricing from a number of our closest partners including Classic, Caribtours, Jetset and Silversea.
It was also our first to get vitality across Europe, hitting millions of consumers across the UK and the continent, and we have been told an incentive for tourist boards to promote their destination as a ‘warm winter destination’/
We have seen an increase in the number of ‘longer winter holidays’ as a result, with bookings up around 20% from the last notable winter (2018/19).
‘THE JOURNAL’ – WEEKLY NEWSLETTER
We have maintained a weekly e-newsletter to a growing database of around 2,000 for the last three years.
The whole philosophy around our emailing marketing is communication, rather than bombarding with offers. We would rather keep in touch with our clients regularly, so we can be front of mind when they are ready to book.
We keep to a regular schedule, every Friday morning (Simon Calder copied us!!), with news, reviews, reports, tips as well as an odd offer here and there, along with interesting travel-themed TV shows for the week ahead.
Our readership has increased by around 25% over the last year, with more views each week and more people clicking through to the website on a regular basis.
More bookings are coming directly from the content each week, but difficult to give exact numbers as bookings can come much later (sometimes months) from an email being sent.
Here are a few examples from the last few months to give you an idea of what we cover:
Our strategy is to be seen as knowledgeable experts in our field, nationwide using our contacts within the media. This increases our sphere of influence with little expenditure.
We have continued relationships with written media (Emma Featherstone at iNews, and Simon Calder at The Independent), as well as appearing occasionally through our contacts in TV and Radio at the BBC, 5News, Reuters and Sky News.
This has brought us at least 6 or 7 high net worth clients directly, and previous clients who hadn’t booked with us for many years returned after seeing what we had been doing in the press.
In a very crowded market, you have to do something different. We see social media as an extension of the website and Journal, rather than the source – which allows us to be more indepth, create understanding and drive visits to our website. Instead of leading with offers, we provide more informative and imaginative content, which has worked really well for us.
We have increased the number of followers on Facebook and Instagram by 10% over the last year, with reach increasing by over 30% on Instagram. We’re also doing more video work on YouTube and TikTok. Twitter is used to build relationships, especially with the media.
The majority of our content is designed and produced in-house, rather than utilizing what is available from tour operators or Advantage. As we explained, this is us trying to do something different, posting the same as everyone else isn’t going to get you noticed.
Two years ago during the pandemic, we took the decision to completely rewrite and reimagine our website, and to reduce the cost of operating it.
We have continued this, and over the last six months increased the amount of work we have put into it, which is now an integral part of launching our campaigns with specific landing pages. The number of destination ‘landing pages’ has also increased, and content is now more transferrable between the website and our Journal.
As a result, like our Journal email, we’re seeing increased views to the website, up over 30% on a year ago, especially the expanded Journal posts which are the most viewed overall.
Ashley took a free apprenticeship in February 2021 (ending in June 2022) in Content Production, gaining a distinction (only losing three marks overall). This has greatly improved the quality of our marketing, and the content we produce ourselves.
NEW HARDWARE & SOFTWARE
We have continued to invest in technology. With vTarsc and a VOIP phone system, we’re able to work anywhere at any time (we even worked in our lunch break at the Advantage Conference). This year we have also bought new, faster computers to aid our ever developing content creation.
We established an Admin team in Portugal to assist with the ever increasing amount of paperwork you need to travel. It has enabled us to concentrate on other elements of the business including sales, marketing and accounting.
Following a number of requests earlier in the year, we soft-launched our own homeworking division called ‘Travel Maestros’, with an emphasis on experience and flexibility.
In addition to Travel Maestros aimed at homeworking, we have Ambassadors who act as referrers in exchange for a small commission when one of their referrals travel.
During the year we promoted Ashley to become a director and shareholder.
He joined us an apprentice 18 years ago, straight from school, and has become an integral part of the business over the years.
Ashley was one of the first in the industry to network and market on social media, and has developed skills in content creation, which have not just increased sales, but the profile of the business with very little overhead cost.
This was a natural progression for us, to secure the future success of the business, which attracted universal praise from across the industry.
In the video you will have seen Mabel, our part-time wellbeing dog, which is appreciated by both staff and clients. Mabel helps put clients at ease when they are booking holidays, and is a companion to help us through the day!
MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATE
We have a dedicated mental health advocate, as a liaison to further psychological support if needed through different charities and support networks. They also monitor working patterns to alleviate stress and overworking.
WORKING WITH CHARITIES
We work with an ever-increasing number of charities (see below), giving back to our local community through our experience and expertise.
With more flexible opening times (with our ‘Anytime Service’), and more relaxed approach to the office, we’re able to offer more flexible working to when our staff can work – be it shorter or different hours, or different days of the week.
RIDE TO WORK SCHEME
We encourage sustainable commuting, which includes our own Ride to Work Scheme. Ashley for example has a Brompton, which makes it easy to store at the office.
ELECTRIC COMPANY VEHICLE
We asked our landlord to install an Electric car charging port when we arrived nearly three years ago. Recently we purchased a new company car to take advantage of this, with a plug-in hybrid and is used on electric power on shorter journeys.
As we share the building with three other companies, we implemented a recycling scheme for waste, and are smart with use of the heating given the location of the building.
Following our move to our new space, we didn’t have the same amount of storage for brochures. We have reduced the number of brochures again, to the most essential ones our clients use most. We also encourage the use of online brochures.
TOUR OPERATOR PARTNERSHIPS
We encourage sustainable commuting, which includes our own Ride to Work Scheme. Ashley for example has a Brompton, which makes it easy to store at the office.
FULL ONLINE MARKETING
All our marketing is now digital, either through emails or a combination of our website and social media. We avoid print media where possible to reduce paper wastage, which has been a big part of our reduction over the last 18 months.
We have considerably reduced the amount of paper we consume in the office. We don’t send any paperwork out in the post, and encourage clients to have e-versions of paperwork, including using airline apps for boarding passes.
We have a new sustainability page on our website, highlighting the choices our clients have to giving back to our planet. These range from hotels with strong sustainable policies, giving to the local community, smarter choices of transport such as trains or alternative destinations to reduce carbon emissions.
Jackie mentors a Young Enterprise group every year at Berkhamsted School, with best practices and helpful tips to run a successful business.
We have utilised the courtyard outside the office, which is directly on the High Street, and the busiest walkway to Waitrose (one of the busiest areas in Berkhamsted), where they have set up their stalls, selling their items during the winter. These range from art-inspired pebbles, to clocks made out of old records.
Over the last couple of years we have also been working with the Princes Trust, helping either disabled or disadvantaged young adults.
In October 2021 we had Colin who was registered blind and came to work with us for two weeks with his guide dog Sid. Colin’s background meant that a strong work ethic wasn’t instilled within in, but even with his disability, we proved that he was perfectly capable of having a job. We also learnt a lot from him, as to what a partially sighted employee would need.
This October we had Tom, who has autism and suffers from anxiety. Although it was difficult to start with, he really found his feet working within a safe and compassionate environment, and again it was interesting working out what an employee would need in a similar circumstance.